Monthly Archives: September 2015

Spice Up Your Music Production Process With a Hardware Synthesizer

While we live in the golden age of plugins and software, it’s more than easy to forget that hardware was there first. Before any plugins were invented, actual hardware existed and people made music using them. Though plugins are great for a modern workflow, it’s worth owning an actual hardware synthesizer to support the music production process, solely for the authentic hands-on feel – and just think about the sound it lets out…

Ten plugins or one analog synth?

Which one is it now? Photo Credit: hitzi1000 via Compfight cc

Which one is it now? Photo Credit: hitzi1000 via Compfight cc

Here’s a common scenario: you are a bedroom producer, owning a bunch of different plugins and softsynths. However, you don’t know how to effectively use half of them. Instead of owning 10 plugin synths, get one quality analog synthesizer to sit on your desk, ready to be fiddled with.

Not only does a real synth look and sound awesome, it is an actual instrument to be played. Just tell me that twisting the filter on a softsynth has the same feeling as actually turning the filter knob, feeling the effect the analog processing does to the sound. I didn’t think so.

The advantages of hardware

It's hardware! Photo Credit: Epillicus via Compfight cc

It’s hardware! Photo Credit: Epillicus via Compfight cc

The advantages of using a hardware synthesizer are real. The workflow in sound design is taken to a whole another level, not being limited to looking at the screen as you can simply trust your intuition as you turn the knobs.

The sounds you make with a hardware synth tend to become more personal due to its hand-crafted nature, which is a huge bonus. For purposes of learning synthesis, a hardware synth is the best choice. Sometimes using software, learning the actual synths inside and out is not that interesting, which results in using presets all the time.

Hardware synths support the learning process.

The beautiful sound of true analog oscillators and filters is a rock-solid fact. Aside of a great, organic sound, producers can easily trigger MIDI straight from their digital audio workstations to take advantage of the best from both digital and analog worlds. Also, modern synths usually communicate with your computer via USB, so it’s really that easy…

Suggestions for a first synth

Here are a few great, affordable monosynths to consider (except for Waldorf Pulse 2, which is technically a monosynth but has some polyphonic abilities, letting its user play chords with it!)

Waldorf Pulse 2

Waldorf Pulse 2 Analog Synthesizer

Waldorf Pulse 2 Analog Synthesizer

Waldorf Pulse 2 is a great choice for a first hardware synth. It is capable of producing powerful basses, leads, smooth pads and keys, even drums and special effects. The speciality of the Pulse 2 is its paraphonic mode, letting its user to play chords up to 8 voices. The Pulse 2 has a built-in arpeggiator and a great-sounding filter section.

Korg MS-20 Mini

Korg MS-20 Mini

Korg MS-20 Mini

Korg MS-20 Mini is true vintage in a modern and affordable package. The sound of the MS-20 needs no introduction, able to create fat analog basses, drums and all kinds of electronic sounds. This is a sound designer’s favorite, with a semi-modular patchbay for modulation possibilities.

Arturia MiniBrute

Arturia MiniBrute

Arturia MiniBrute

The MiniBrute by Arturia is a fun and fat monosynth, great for organic-sounding leads and basses, featuring a sub oscillator for the lowest frequencies and an intuitive oscillator mixer section, letting its user tweak until a unique timbre is achieved.

Korg Volca Beats Analog Rhythm Machine

Korg Volca Beats

Korg Volca Beats

The Volca Beats by Korg is truly a small bundle of joy, with its intuitive user interface and great sound. The Beats has a 16-step sequencer for making drum patterns.

A new perspective

Analog synths offer a fresh perspective. Photo Credit: miskan via Compfight cc

Analog synths offer a fresh perspective. Photo Credit: miskan via Compfight cc

For any music producer and electronic music enthusiast, there really is no excuse not to acquire one quality hardware synthesizer, as the synth market is blooming, with a variety of options available.

Get out of your comfort zone of softsynths and get yourself an early birthday present. You’ll gain a whole new approach to making music with a hardware synth in your arsenal.

-JP

Do you own any hardware synths already (and if you do, which ones)? Are you thinking of getting one, or has it never even crossed your mind? Let’s discuss in the comment section below.

Effective Listening Skills – Make the Most of Your Music by Monitoring Correctly

Effective listening skills are vital for any music producer to be able to produce a good sounding record. It’s recommended to take advantage of a variety of monitoring levels, to avoid staying static and make sure the music sounds good at every volume level.

The following three monitoring levels have different purposes in making music. Each can be used for their own purpose, as well as doing an overall volume reference of a piece of music, using all three levels.

Loud Listening Volume

Listen at high volumes to feel the emotions of your music. Photo Credit: EpicFireworks via Compfight cc

Listen at high volumes to feel the emotions of your music. Photo Credit: EpicFireworks via Compfight cc

Sometimes it’s useful to stay very loud. This is especially true when making music – producing the actual track. During times like these, you simply need to feel the music, transferring your own emotions into a track.

In the initial stages of writing a track, it is almost essential to blast out the music at high volumes, to capture the most of the emotion.

Be aware though, this doesn’t mean you should be listening at very high volumes for three hours straight. Your ears won’t like it, and it’s not healthy for them in the long run.

Think of the loud listening volume as the “creative” or “songwriting” volume level.

Normal Listening Volume

Normal monitoring volumes roughly equal to the volume of regular human speech. If your friends are around, you should hear them talk while the music is playing.

A normal monitoring level is useful for everyday audio editing, audio effect plugin comparison, producing and slight mixing work.

Think of this volume level as the one you’ll be doing the most of your work at. It is the regular level to produce music at.

Quiet Listening Volume

Quiet levels are great for mixing. Photo Credit: tristangage via Compfight cc

Quiet levels are great for mixing. Photo Credit: tristangage via Compfight cc

You’ve achieved a quiet monitoring volume when you can barely hear all elements of the track. In practice, it is really quiet. You also need a quiet working environment to be able to work properly.

This kind of monitoring level is handy especially in mixing. When putting together a mix from scratch (all faders are down), it’s recommended to use a low listening volume.

The advantages of quiet monitoring levels are many, such as being able to hear every instrument’s volume in relation to others, therefore being able to place them in the mix more effectively. Also, when a track sounds good and punchy at very low volumes, you can be sure that it sounds banging when blasted out.

Usually, the low monitoring level is used only when starting the final mixing stage, with all production, arranging and songwriting already done.

Stacking the skills…

Volume levels Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

Volume levels are important. Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

In the end, as you develop better monitoring skills, you will find yourself using them in every situation that needs them. A good practice is to change your monitoring level every once in a while, especially during long sessions to keep your ears fresh and not fool them by one static monitoring level.

I hope this article helps you in finding those correct volumes to monitor at. While monitoring levels vary from person to person, it’s good to have at least three different levels to yourself – low, normal and high.

-JP

If you have any questions about monitoring, please leave them below.

How to Make Time for Music

The most important trait to any musician, or any profession to that matter, is to show up doing what you do on a regular basis. If one wants to make music, they have to, well, make music. The road to success is really that simple. On the other hand, our lives are so busy in this modern era that it feels like there is absolutely no time during the day for activities such as making music. To learn about how to make time for music, read on.

Time…

Busy

Yup, we’re busy people… Photo Credit: id-iom via Compfight cc

We all have busy lives, that’s a fact. You and I have 24 hours per day to make good use of. In reality though, you’ll be sleeping 8 hours of it, which makes the day only 16 hours long. To be even more realistic, take out 8 hours from that because you need to go to work too. That’s only eight hours of spare time, minus lunch, dinner, phone calls, etc.

To be fair, you’ve only got about six hours to spend as you will during the day on average. Now how on earth do you plan on spending it on music of all the activities possible? Mental strength and willpower.

Now of course, you’ll need to do some physical exercising activities, such as sports, with that time as well. But you don’t need to do it every day. A couple days per week will do just fine. Just to get it out of the way. There is no mental power if the physical energies are drained out.

And now, onto the tips!

…make some!

  1. Get a large whiteboard where you’ll write your daily schedule – and follow it.

    Whiteboard

    Whiteboards are cheap. Get one. Photo Credit: FotoDB.de via Compfight cc

This is an important one. It’s also one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. It’s simple really, you just write what you have to do the next day on the board the night before, and upon waking up you follow the schedule. Here’s an example:

8:00 Wake up, make tea and do 30 push-ups

8:15-8:30 Answer emails and messages

8:30-9:30 Sound design for the next track

10:00-4pm Go to work

5pm-9pm Make music

9pm  Evening hangout with friends

12am Sleep

Now, when you make a schedule for yourself, do yourself a favor and follow it, because otherwise what’s the point? The advantages of creating a schedule are: you’ll be able to visualize your day and your time, stay organized and you don’t need to worry about what to do next or have the feeling of being lazy and useless.

  1. If you’ve made plans with people, realize them. If not, learn to say no and follow your own schedule.

Enough said. Photo Credit: your_dost via Compfight cc

Enough said. Photo Credit: your_dost via Compfight cc

This is an easy mistake. Imagine your best friend calls you in the middle of a music making session. You’ll answer the phone and he/she wants to do something with you. Since you’re such a good friend, you don’t want to miss the opportunity of doing something fun together.

Sometimes, you need to say no. People won’t be offended. Everyone’s got things to do, and so do you. Just be polite and say: “It would be really nice to hang out, but I’m in the middle of my music making zone. We could do something later in the evening though, or tomorrow. How’s that sound?”

Since I like to hang out with my friends a lot, I’ve made this mistake quite often in the past. If you want to get work done, you’ll need to stay inside and actually do it. In fact, you’ll feel a lot better when you decide to have your leisure time after work.

  1. Be super effective with your music making time.

Imagine this scenario: you’ve found yourself in your studio, in front of your computer, finally enjoying the moment of pure music making bliss. But then you get a great idea: “Okay, before I fully get into it, I’ll just watch this quick video on YouTube. Only the one 3-minute video.” And what happened? You’re still sitting there 30 minutes later, watching brainless videos on YouTube.

Don’t do it.

When you step in your studio, create a new mindset for yourself. And that’s for making actual music. Fire up the DAW, open your latest project and off you go. It’s that simple.

To be even more effective in this process, take look at the next tip…

  1. Put on the timer when you start making music.

Timer. Easy. Photo Credit: jfingas via Compfight cc

Timer. Easy. Photo Credit: jfingas via Compfight cc

There’s a timer on my digital watch, which is a really good friend of mine. Often I find myself in situations like: “Okay, I’ve got to make a bassline” or “I need to create the sound effects for my track”. These kinds of situations need a small push from my part. I need to push myself. This is why I turn on the timer to force myself into the zone.

Just think “How quick can I do this? Let’s see.” …and click on the timer.

The timer will help push yourself in making music. There’s a saying I once heard: “The faster you do it, the faster you do it.” Makes sense, huh?

  1. Use the non-music making time to evaluate your music, so you won’t lose time actually making music.

When you're sitting here, don't waste time! Photo Credit: noise64 via Compfight cc

When you’re sitting here, don’t waste time! Photo Credit: noise64 via Compfight cc

Here’s a common situation: you’re sitting on a bus, tram, train, car, plane or any other transportation you might have, every day going to work or taking care of business. This would be a great time to take advantage of to progress your music, wouldn’t it. Here’s how to do it:

Bounce your latest track out of your DAW and put it on your iPod, iPhone, or whatever you use to listen to music on the go. Now while you’re sitting there riding a bus and doing nothing, play your latest piece and open a notepad to take notes.

As you listen to the track, take notes of how it progresses. What’s still needed as far as instrumentation goes? How is the mix sounding? What do you need to add/take away? What’s wrong with the arrangement?

Listen closely and make good notes for yourself you can take back to your studio and get right into it, fixing whatever you think needed to be fixed. Who said one can’t make music while not being in the studio?

That’s it!

I hope these tips provide some aid for you in your music making journey. To be a successful music producer, you’ll need to make music. The only hard part is to make time for music in our busy lives. But that’s totally up to you to do, and no-one else.

-JP

You've got the power. Photo Credit: JimmyMac210 via Compfight cc

You’ve got the power. Photo Credit: JimmyMac210 via Compfight cc